As liberalism entered the 20th century, it developed aggressively socialist sympathies. This shouldn’t surprise us. Those years were the heyday of socialist (and Marxist) giddiness in the West, and an operative tenet of liberalism is reconfiguring the Christian Faith to make it conform to the temper of the contemporary world. It was trendy to be socialist, so liberals were trendily socialist.
The ideational engine behind this liberal socialism soon became known as the “social gospel,” championed by American theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. In his A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), he writes (p. 143) that a truly Christian social order
involves the redemption of society from political autocracies and economic oligarchies [he means what we term corporations or “big business”]…. The highest expression of love is the free surrender of what is truly our own, life, property, and rights…. This involves the redemption of society from private property in the natural resources of the earth, and from any condition of industry which makes monopoly profits possible.
We should understand that by “free surrender” Rauschenbusch did not mean voluntary charity: he meant state-coerced wealth redistribution. (It’s unclear how “free” accurately describes such coercion.)
Although it’s hard on the surface to find a necessary relation between theological and political liberalism (the noted evangelical John Warwick Montgomery once claimed to be a theological conservative but political liberal), it’s even harder to find theological liberals with adamant conservative political convictions. In philosophical language, the relation between theological and political liberalism may not be causal, but it’s apparently correlative.
Of course, political liberalism isn’t merely about economic socialism; it supports abortion rights, gay rights, same-sex-marriage, cultural pluralism and so on. This is just what theological liberalism supports.
It’s also what liberal evangelicals (generally) support. Tony Campolo, for example, well-known elder liberal evangelical statesman, is an enthusiastic supporter of coerced income distribution — and quite willing to be known as a liberal evangelical. This means that Campolo, putative pacifist, is a supporter of state-sponsored violence to fulfill his dream of income equality (if you don’t believe that taxation involves violence, try not paying your taxes for 10 years).
Daniel Kirk, Fuller Seminary faculty, in discussing the recent amendment in North Carolina that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, declared that “Christians not only have the freedom to stand against it, but are conscience-bound to vote against it [emphasis supplied]” since “people will stand to lose medical coverage, hospital visitation rights, rights of inheritance and the like.” This position deftly — and outrageously— unites two essential politically liberal tents: (1) support for homosexual marriage and (2) support for coercive wealth redistribution.
Let me posit that this mad dash to political liberalism is possible (among other reasons) because liberal evangelicals have given up full Biblical authority. If you don’t believe that, think of this: No liberal evangelical champions Biblical inerrancy (can you name one?). And I ask: do you know of any champions of Biblical inerrancy that endorse homosexual marriage and radically increased taxation for income redistribution?
Finally: Do you believe these facts are merely coincidental?